Ratha’s Creature and Clan Ground are the first two books of The Named, a series of YA fantasy books about a society of sentient felines living in pre-historic times. The protagonist is Ratha, a female cat, who is just a cub when we first meet her at the start of the series. Ratha doesn’t quite fit in with her clan. While she shares most animal’s natural fear of fire, she’s also drawn to it, curious about it. Her taming of what she thinks of as the Fire Creature leads to her banishment, but ultimately it proves essential for the species’ survival. Before that, however, Ratha has to leave everything she's ever known behind and learn to fend for herself. I'll avoid a plot summary of Clan Ground because there’s no wayI can write one without spoilers for the first book. So I’ll just say that in the second book we find an older, wiser Ratha, as well as some of her friends from the first book.
One of the most interesting things about these books was the fact that Clare Bell managed to create characters that feel human, but not too human. I mean, obviously this is a human story, and even if we write about sentient lobsters we’ll inevitable give them human traits. So it feels silly to say they were accurate portraits of wild cats, but they certainly felt like they were. They were sympathetic and easy to relate to, but they also had some mystery, and a certain ruthlessness that would most likely make us flinch in human characters. But not in wild cats.
Or not all the time, anyway. At one point in the first book Ratha did something that temporarily cost her my sympathy. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, but it’s hard to talk about this without saying some things about the plot. It has to do with her cubs, and the reason why I was mad at her was because I can’t help but interpret the story in human terms. What she does makes sense if you’re a wild animal, but, as a person, the idea of there being an intrinsic quality whose presence of absence amounts to the difference between being civilized or “barbaric” doesn't make me very happy. I initially thought the series was going in a different direction with this. However, the title of the third book indicates that this issue will be addressed again, and I’m really looking forward to finding out how.
Though both were very enjoyable, I think I preferred Clan’s Ground to Ratha’s Creature. The plot was tighter, the issues the story dealt with interested me more, the characters were even more interesting. I liked the older Ratha better than the young one. And plus part of the story is told from Thakur’s (Ratha’s friend and former teacher) point of view, and I like him a lot. At one point he catches a wounded little monkey, whom he domesticates and names Aree. The idea of wild cats domesticating monkeys might seem silly, but believe me, in the book it really isn’t. And Aree was such a great character.
As in the first book, in Clan Ground I didn't always know to which extent I should make sense of the character’s actions in human terms. There are some things that are very, very human. For example, the events that take place in book one end up bringing improvements to the clan’s life, and this means they’re no longer constantly concerned with safety and food. And so, as people do, they begin to desire something more in their lives, something beyond surirval. As Ratha learns, to acknowledge this desire and to use it positively is essential. There are other moments, however, where I felt the same sort of conflict I feel when watching National Geographic documentaries: one day rooting for the gazelle, the other for the lion. But this is actually part of what makes the series so interesting.
Both Ratha’s Creature and Clan Ground were fun, fast-paced and full of interesting characters. They’re good stories, but they’re also thematically complex enough to have given me quite a few things to think about. I’m really looking forward to reading the remaining three books in this series.
Dog Ear Diary (Ratha’s Creature)
Dog Ear Diary (Clan Ground)
Into the Wardrobe (Ratha’s Creature)
Words by Annie (Ratha’s Creature)
(Let me know if I missed yours.)